Whale Watching in Maui

One of the activities I have enjoyed the most during my visits to Hawaii is whale watching in Maui. Being out on a boat while looking for whales in the distance is the perfect way to spend a morning in my opinion. If you are going to Maui, you should make sure whale watching is on your list.

Here are the things you should know before you go.

The Humpback Whale

When I say whales here, I mean humpback whales. The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. The adults range in length from 39-52 feet and weigh about 79,000 pounds (Wow! I didn’t realize they were SO big before writing this post).

The humpback whale has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Their lifespan is estimated to be between 45-50 years. The humpback whale completes the longest annual migration of any mammal.

Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.

The Best Time to See Whales in Maui

Humpback whales visit Hawaiian waters each year from November May. The peak season is from January to March.

Which Hawaiian Island is Best for Whale Watching?

While you are likely to see whales off many of the Hawaiian islands during whale season, Maui is one of the top whale watching spots for boat-based viewing in the world.

Pacific Whale Foundation

We chose to go on a whale watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation (referred to as Pac Whale by the locals) from Maalaea Harbor, which was next door to our condo. Talk about convenient!

The Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 to save whales from extinction. According to their website, their mission is to “protect the oceans through science and advocacy.” They do research in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador.  When possible, I prefer to take tours with organizations that are working to improve the environment and the species that call it home. Therefore, Pacific Whale Foundation was the perfect choice for us!

Whale Watching in Maui

We started spotting whales within 10-15 minutes of departing from Maalaea Harbor and probably saw 15-20 whales in total during the two hours we were out on the water. Most of the whales we saw included a mama and a baby since the whales come to the warm waters of Hawaii in the winter to give birth and raise their babies until they are grown enough to make the trek back to Alaska during for the summer.

The whales do not eat while they are in Hawaii because there is no food in the area. They eat nonstop during the summer months in Alaska and use that as fuel for the winters in Hawaii. We did see a large breach or two but I did not catch any of them with my camera. I am okay with that since I was there to experience the moment, not take photos.

Whale Watching in Maui
Every humpback whale has a unique pattern on its tail fin, which helps researchers identify them.

The land mass in the distance of this photo is Molokini. Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater between Maui and Kaho’olawe. Snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular at Molokini.
Whale Watching in Maui
My favorite moment of the tour, and possibly my favorite moment of the whole trip to Maui, happened about halfway into this tour. A mama and baby whale swam directly under our boat and came to the surface about 10 feet from where I was standing on the boat. It was AMAZING! I will not forget that moment anytime soon. Everyone on the boat was so excited.
A couple of Bottlenose dolphins decided to join our tour too!

So many wind towers on the island of Maui.

My Final Thoughts on Whale Watching in Maui

I really liked this tour. I think it was the cheapest organized tour we did in Maui too. It was ~$45 per person, which is reasonable for Maui.

The only odd thing about the tour was that they required everyone boarding to have their photo taken. Their reason for this was to help them count the number of people on board. They then had employees count the number of people on board again after we departed from Maalaea Harbor. I have never seen this before and am not sure why they were so particular about the photo. I tried to talk my way out of having to have my photo taken to no avail. I wonder if they have funding or grants tied to the number of people they take on tours?

Other than this, I only have great things to say about whale watching in Maui and the Pacific Whale Foundation and its employees. I highly recommend them if you plan to join a whale watching tour while in Hawaii.

Interested in reading more? Check out the things you should know before traveling the Road to Hana here.

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Whale Watching in Maui